Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance

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Macmillan, Feb 25, 2014 - Business & Economics - 289 pages
8 Reviews
Welcome to life in a society of ubiquitous surveillance, tracking and data mining... Angwin, a Wall Street Journal reporter who along with her colleagues has produced essential reporting on privacy and security ... aims to illuminate the costs of living with systems that track nearly everything we do, think or say... [and] she performs a herculean effort to regain her privacy... A useful, well-reported study." - The Los Angeles Times "I read Julia Angwin's new book Dragnet Nation ... I heartily recommend it to you... [The book is an] antidote to Big Brother's big chill." - Bill Moyers "A deeply researched book that is completely of the moment. Dragnet Nation moves right to the top of the list of books we should all read about privacy ." - Salon "Angwin's warning that 'information is power' resonates." - The Daily Beast "Angwin elegantly chronicles this tragedy of the digital commons at the level of policy and our individual civil liberties... Dragnet Nation really kicks in - and becomes a blast to read - when she fights back... If enough people follow Angwin's lead, new networks of computer users might manage to open up ever larger holes in the dragnet world." - Bookforum "Entertaining... Pacy and eye-opening." - The Financial Times "Angwin, a longtime reporter on digital privacy issues for the Wall Street Journal , releases the contemporary (and, unfortunately, nonfiction) companion book to Orwell's 1984 . Dragnet Nation examines the surveillance economy and its effect on free speech and thought, likely causing readers to rethink the next words they type into a search engine." - LA Weekly "[Angwin is] a privacy ninja." - Yahoo!'s Tech Modern Family "Informative, conversational... [Angwin's] travails educate her (and her readers) about all the ways privacy-minded developers are working to develop anti-surveillance tools, and this forms a helpful guide for readers seeking non-jargony information on minimizing their digital footprints." - Columbia Journalism Review "A new hot-button issue that touches both politics and business is privacy, and the erosion of privacy is examined in Dragnet Nation." - Publishers Weekly (Top 10 Business & Economics Books) "Fascinating ... Angwin, who spent years covering privacy issues for the Wall Street Journal , draws on conversations with researchers, hackers and IT experts, surveying the modern dragnet tracking made possible by massive computing power, smaller devices and cheap storage of data... A solid work for both privacy freaks and anyone seeking tips on such matters as how to strengthen passwords." - Kirkus Reviews "In this thought-provoking, highly accessible exploration of the issues around personal data-gathering, Julia Angwin provides a startling account of how we're all being tracked, watched, studied, and sorted. Her own (often very funny) attempts to maintain her online privacy demonstrate the ubiquity of the dragnet - and the near impossibility of evading it. I'll never use Google in the same way again." - Gretchen Rubin, bestselling author of Happier at Home and The Happiness Project "Julia Angwin's pathbreaking reporting for the Wall Street Journal about online tracking changed the privacy debate. Her new book represents another leap forward: by showing how difficult it was to protect her own privacy and vividly describing the social and personal costs, Angwin offers both a wakeup call and a thoughtful manifesto for reform. This is a meticulously documented and gripping narrative about why privacy matters and what we can do about it." - Jeffrey Rosen, president and CEO, National Constitution Center, and author of The Unwanted Gaze and The Naked Crowd " Dragnet Nation is an impressive picture of the new world of electronic surveillance - from Google to the NSA. Julia Angwin's command of the technology is sure, her writing is clear, and her arguments are compelling. This is an authoritative account of why we should care about privacy and how we can protect ourselves." - Bruce Schneier, author of Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust That Society Needs to Thrive " Dragnet Nation is a fascinating, compelling, and powerful read. Many of us would simply prefer not to know how much others know about us, and yet Julia Angwin opens a door onto that dark world in a way that both raises a new set of public issues and canvasses a range of solutions. We can reclaim our privacy while still enjoying the benefits of many types of surveillance - but only if we take our heads out of the sand and read this book." - Anne-Marie Slaughter, president and CEO, New America "

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - Rainn - LibraryThing

To start with, this book is written by a well known reporter. This idea, leading into the book, quickly dissolved any hope I had of the facts utilized in the book being well researched. I say this due ... Read full review

Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance

User Review  - Book Verdict

Angwin narrates her efforts to learn the modes of surveillance and how she attempted to increase the difficulties for information collection. Read full review



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About the author (2014)


HackedWho is watching you?This was once a question asked only by kings, presidents, and public figures trying to dodge the paparazzi and criminals trying to evade the law. The rest of us had few occasions to worry about being tracked.But today the anxious question—"who’s watching?"—is relevant to everyone regardless of his or her fame or criminal persuasion. Any of us can be watched at almost any time, whether it is by a Google Street View car taking a picture of our house, or an advertiser following us as we browse the Web, or the National Security Agency logging our phone calls.Dragnets that scoop up information indiscriminately about everyone in their path used to be rare; police had to set up roadblocks, or retailers had to install and monitor video cameras. But technology has enabled a new era of supercharged dragnets that can gather vast amounts of personal data with little human effort. These dragnets are extending into ever more private corners of the world.Consider the relationship of Sharon Gill and Bilal Ahmed, close friends who met on a private online social network called PatientLikeMe.com.Sharon and Bilal couldn’t be more different. Sharon is a forty-two-year-old single mother who lives in a small town in southern Arkansas. She ekes out a living trolling for treasures at yard sales and selling them at a flea market. Bilal Ahmed, thirty-six years old, is a single, Rutgers-educated man who lives in a penthouse in Sydney, Australia. He runs a chain of convenience stores.Although they have never met in person, they became close friends on a password-protected online forum for patients struggling with mental health issues. Sharon was trying to wean herself from antidepressant medications. Bilal had just lost his mother and was suffering from anxiety and depression.From their far corners of the world, they were able to cheer each other up in their darkest hours. Sharon turned to Bilal because she felt she couldn’t confide in her closest relatives and neighbors. "I live in a small town," Sharon told me. "I don’t want to be judged on this mental illness."But in 2010, Sharon and Bilal were horrified to discover they were being watched on their private social network.It started with a break-in. On May 7, 2010, PatientsLikeMe noticed unusual activity on the "mood" forum where Sharon and Bilal hung out. A new member of the site, using sophisticated software, was attempting to "scrape," or copy, every single message off PatientsLikeMe’s private online "Mood" and "Multiple Sclerosis" forums.PatientsLikeMe managed to block and identify the intruder: it was the Nielsen Company, the New York media-research firm. Nielsen monitors online "buzz" for its clients, including major drug makers. On May 18, PatientsLikeMe sent a cease-and-desist letter to Nielsen and notified its members of the break-in. (Nielsen later said it would no longer break into private forums. "It’s something that we decided is not acceptable," said Dave Hudson, the head of the Nielsen unit involved.)But there was a twist. PatientsLikeMe used the opportunity to inform members of the fine print they may not have noticed when they signed up. The website was also selling data about its members to pharmaceutical and other companies.The news was a double betrayal for Sharon and Bilal. Not only had an intruder been monitoring them, but so was the very place that they considered to be a safe space. It was as if someone filmed an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and AA was mad because that film competed with its own business of videotaping meetings and selling the tapes. "I felt totally violated," Bilal said.Even worse, none of it was necessarily illegal. Nielsen was operating in a gray area of the law even as it violated the terms of service at PatientsLikeMe, but those terms are not always legally enforceable. And it was entirely legal for PatientsLikeMe to disclose to its members in its fine print that it would sweep up all their information and sell it.This is the tragic flaw of "privacy" in the digital age. Privacy is often defined as freedom from unauthorized intrusion. But many of the things that feel like privacy violations are "authorized" in some fine print somewhere.And yet, in many ways, we have not yet fully consented to these authorized intrusions. Even if it is legal for companies to scoop up information about people’s mental health, is it socially acceptable?Eavesdropping on Sharon and Bilal’s conversations might be socially acceptable if they were drug dealers under court-approved surveillance. But is sweeping up their conversations as part of a huge dragnet to monitor online "buzz" socially acceptable?

Dragnets that indiscriminately sweep up personal data fall squarely into the gray area between what is legal and what is socially acceptable.

●We are living in a Dragnet Nation—a world of indiscriminate tracking where institutions are stockpiling data about individuals at an unprecedented pace. The rise of indiscriminate tracking is powered by the same forces that have brought us the technology we love so much—powerful computing on our desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones.Before computers were commonplace, it was expensive and difficult to track individuals. Governments kept records only of occasions, such as birth, marriage, property ownership, and death. Companies kept records when a customer bought something and filled out a warranty card or joined a loyalty club. But technology has made it cheap and easy for institutions of all kinds to keep records about almost every moment of our lives.Consider just a few facts that have enabled the transformation. Computer processing power has doubled roughly every two years since the 1970s, enabling computers that were once the size of entire rooms to fit into a pants pocket. And recently, the cost to store data has plummeted from $18.95 for one gigabyte in 2005 to $1.68 in 2012. It is expected to cost under a dollar in a few years.The combination of massive computing power, smaller and smaller devices, and cheap storage has enabled a huge increase in indiscriminate tracking of personal data. The trackers are not all intruders, like Nielsen. The trackers also include many of the institutions that are supposed to be on our side, such as the government and the companies with which we do business.Of course, the largest of the dragnets appear to be those operated by the U.S. government. In addition to its scooping up vast amounts of foreign communications, the National Security Agency is also scooping up Americans’ phone calling records and Internet traffic, according to documents revealed in 2013 by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.But the NSA is not alone (although it may be the most effective) in operating dragnets. Governments around the world—from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe—are snapping up surveillance technology, ranging from "massive intercept" equipment to tools that let them remotely hack into people’s phones and computers. Even local and state governments in the United States are snapping up surveillance technology ranging from drones to automated license plate readers that allow them to keep tabs on citizens’ movements in ways never before possible. Local police are increasingly tracking people using signals emitted by their cell phones.Meanwhile, commercial dragnets are blossoming. AT&T and Verizon are selling information about the location of their cell phone customers, albeit without identifying them by name. Mall owners have started using technology to track shoppers based on the signals emitted by the cell phones in their pockets. Retailers such as Whole Foods have used digital signs that are actually facial recognition scanners. Some car dealerships are using a service from Dataium that lets them know which cars you have browsed online, if you have given them your e-mail address, before you arrive on the dealership lot.Online, hundreds of advertisers and data brokers are watching as you browse the Web. Looking up "blood sugar" could tag you as a possible diabetic by companies that profile people based on their medical condition and then provide drug companies and insurers access to that information. Searching for a bra could trigger an instant bidding war among lingerie advertisers at one of the many online auction houses.And new tracking technologies are just around the corner: companies are building facial recognition technology into phones and cameras, technology to monitor your location is being embedded into vehicles, wireless "smart" meters that gauge the power usage of your home are being developed, and Google has developed Glass, tiny cameras embedded in eyeglasses that allow people to take photos and videos without lifting a finger.●Skeptics say: What’s wrong with all of our data being collected by unseen watchers? Who is being harmed?Admittedly, it can be difficult to demonstrate personal harm from a data breach. If Sharon or Bilal is denied a job or insurance, they may never know which piece of data caused the denial. People placed on the no-fly list are never informed about the data that contributed to the decision.But, on a larger scale, the answer is simple: troves of personal data can and will be abused.Consider one of the oldest and supposedly innocuous dragnets of all: the U.S. Census. The confidentiality of personal information collected by the census is protected by law, and yet census data have been repeatedly abused. During World War I, it was used to locate draft violators. During World War II, the Census Bureau provided the names and addresses of Japanese-American residents to the U.S. Secret Service. The information was used to round up Japanese residents and place them in internment camps. It was not until 2000 that the Census Bureau issued a formal apology for its behavior. And in 2002 and 2003,

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